Journal of South Asian Literature. v 11, V. 11 ( 1976) p. 263.

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Shiv Ko Kumar


Defiant questioning in recent poems

In the third week of August 1973, Bombay witnessed at Gallery Chemould an exhibition of Poster Poems ("Words: Nissim Ezekiel, Design: Urmila Rao") which attempted an artistic synthesis of verbal and visual creation- These poems covered a wide range of moods, themes, insights and poetic modeSc To lend the complexity of a poetic emotion to the unidimensional poster medium can be hazardous, and indeed Ezekiel was deeply conscious of the dangers,, He did not wish his "poems to compromise with the poster medium by being invariably simple and directo c . o I chose to take the risks of complexity, compression and stylistic freewheeling, particularly in the treatment of certain mystical or metaphysical perceptions."

Encouraged by the warm response of his audience, he conceived of a second, similar exhibition, and each poem in the new series "came" as a "prayer" -- an incisive epigrammatic outpouring, utterly unconventional, irrepressibly ironic, and irreverently comic in its confrontation with the inscrutable designs of the Makero These were "pathetic appeals to the universal egoist's silent God,"

But prayer has never been alien to Ezekiel"s mode of writing -- in fact, he has used it in one form or other ever since he started writing poetry. As atheist, rationalist and unbeliever from 1942 to 1967 (when he had his first LSD trip and was instantaneously converted to a religious and metaphysical view of life, somewhat akin to the Hindu concept of reality), he seems to have lived through some varieties of religious experiencee Since there is only a thin veil that separates negation from affirmation and doubt from faith, Ezekiel has now swung over to prayer as the most authentic mode of communication with the Supreme Deity, But being essentially something of a synical Salvationist, he believes as much in self-scrutiny as in debunking mercilessly a11 shams and hypocrisies in others. The resultant emotion in these Poster Prayers, therefore, is not of passive submission, but of defiant questioning^

Using paradoxes and inversions as his modus operandi^ Ezekiel freewheels around traditional religious and metaphysical concepts to make the contemporary reader realize the absurdity of the human predicaments Nonetheless, he reveals an unmistakable humanistic concern for man who feels eternally torn between precept and example, ideal and deed. Here is, for instance, a cryptic comment on the impossibility of resigning oneself to pure action without craving for compensation (palpable overtones from the Bhagvadgita*):

No, Lord,

not the fruit of action

1s my motive.

But do you really mind

half a bite of it?

It tastes so sweet,

and I'm so hungry.

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